Kerry Skarbakka on His Stendhal Series

August 31, 2011


Skarbakka and Mount Corcoran

Kerry Skarbakka, Stendhal No. 1, Corcoran Gallery, 2011. C-print. 48 x 54 in.

The Stendhal Syndrome, an illness officially named by Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini in the late 1970s, describes disorienting waves of euphoria brought on by viewing great works of Florentine Art. This intoxicating experience was first written about in the 19th century by the French author Stendhal (pen name of Marie-Henri Beyle) and is known to trigger dizziness, fainting, and even hallucinations.

This romantic notion that the pure power of great art could incapacitate people, sending them to their knees, has intrigued me for many years. Although I never fully experiencing it myself, I could relate to the sublime nature of true artistic expression and understood how it could reach so deeply into its unsuspecting viewer. That same rush of emotion, inspiration, anxiety, and even panic exists for me today and can only be compared to similar effects when witnessing the natural wonders of this planet.

Skarbakka Series 3Skarbakka Series 2

The photographer stages the latest work in his Struggle to Right Oneself series in front of the Corcoran's Mount Corcoran

This series of images is an imaginative and often hyperbolic exploration into the Stendhal Syndrome, through creating various physical and psychological responses of an audience to art as viewed within the settings of museums, galleries, and even private collections. As narrative, the work is interested in the dialogue surrounding what is considered great art, the effects on the viewer, and the impact directed by its institutional environments.

Albert Bierstadt’s painting of Mount Corcoran is emblematic of this intrinsic connection between Nature and Art and makes the perfect introduction to this new body of work. Founded by Thomas Cole, the Hudson River School was enamored with the idea of the “sublime” and capturing it within their paintings. For me, Bierstadt’s Mount Corcoran, with its massive white peak enshrouded by clouds, idyllic cascading waterfalls and penetrating light evokes the right type of romanticism (right down to its massively ornate gold frame) necessary to begin this exploration.

For this leg of the journey, I’d like to thank the artists Stephen Chalmers, Jason Horowitz, Preston Poe and Clark Stoeckley for lending a very special hand. Additional thanks go to Eli Kerstein, Sam Kerstein, and Ewelina Boczkowska for their kind appearances and patience.